Hillary’s debilitating illness: worse than Trump’s?

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I was reflecting on the fact that many political conservatives are speculating about Hillary Clinton’s health; particularly, the idea she might have been covering up Parkinson’s disease for ten years.

This speculation has an unseemly air about it. For all I know, it may be true. Yet, generally speaking, we have an intellectual responsibility to be careful as to the beliefs we hold. One major problem with asserting a public figure has a certain illness is that due to limited access, it is hard verify by balanced expert testimony.

When Barry Goldwater ran for president in 1964, many psychiatrists opined in public that he was crazy or otherwise unfit for office. Subsequently, the American Psychiatry Association implemented the Goldwater rule, which bars diagnosis of public figures in one’s professional capacity, particularly when being interviewed or speaking in public. I am unaware of such a rule for physicians, but since in Clinton’s case Parkinson’s disease tocuhes on cognitive ability, I think the same principle applies.

But what about everyday citizens? In this regard I think of many liberals and progressives who hold to the rumor that the end of, or even all of, Reagan’s presidency was impacted by Alzheimer’s. Again, these allegations as to cognitive ability inherently have a cheapness and air of disrespect to them, even if they turn out to be true.

So what then if one really believes these infirmities, whether of Clinton or Reagan, to be the case? On the one hand, we should hope that the medical professionals who attend a presidential candidate are honest and fully forthcoming given that a president’s health is essential knowledge for a democracy looking to entrust him or her with crucial executive judgments. On the other hand, since it is wholly possible that medical professionals may be less than forthcoming, the average citizen can be within her rights to speculate about the candidate’s health. Nonetheless, because election season is a very heated and pitched time, and such talk has an air of disrespect or cheapness to it, it is an area where I think it wise to put forth the view as tentative rather than firm, lest one be accused, perhaps rightfully so, of wishful thinking.

Incapacitations, Physical and Dispositional

One more thing I’d like to observe. It seems to me that if cognitive and executive capacities are fair game in conversation among citizens generally, then Donald Trump may well be as incapacitated as a chronically ill Clinton. Whereas one with Parkinson’s will be incapacitated by physical disease, Trump quite arguably could be incapacitated due to spiritual disease. What I mean is not a crude holy roller judgment. Rather, as a function of character or personal disposition, Trump seems to exhibit underdeveloped, or insufficiently actualized, capacities for self-restraint. Witness his late night tweets. He also seems to lack patience or wherewithal to do policy homework. Think of the primary debate where Marco Rubio goaded Trump for more health insurance policy substance than “lines around the states.”

By contrast, recall back to the primaries when Ben Carson was initially not well informed about foreign policy, but later showed increased knowledge. The simple ability to listen and learn, so as to acquire and apply new knowledge, is so important to the average American job, let alone the presidency. It is a testament to circumstantial privilege, perhaps being so inescapably beholden to his own inflated ego, that Trump could surf on his charisma, such as it is, to arrive where he is. Or we might say he has the vice of stubbornness, which amounts effectively to being unable to listen and adjust. At any rate, the story of skating to higher office is actually similar for President Obama and Hillary Clinton. The promise of an “articulate and bright and clean” black man, to use Joe Biden’s words, or the first female president, allows these people to sail quite far on whatever other privileges, skills, and connections they enjoy.

Back to Trump’s disposition. My emphasis on actualized or developed capacities, abilities, and habits, comes from virtue ethics. These are questions of character. Not just judgment, but discipline and habit. Conservatives often get slammed for suggesting that some people who are chronicly poor are so because of underdeveloped capacities acquired through discipline. But to observe the absence of discipline is not necessarily a moral judgment of blame upon them. They may be victims of circumstance. Yet it is true that their capacity is underdeveloped nonetheless. That’s why, whether one refers to the stereotype of the “Welfare Queen” or to Donald Trump, we should all want to encourage or demand the development of capacities, where they can occur. For Hillary Clinton, this would mean an increased capacity to be honest rather than covering up anthing that remotely makes her look blameworthy. But then again, for both Clinton and Trump, the maxim may hold that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Now it is true that since the primaries, Trump has come to deliver substantive policy speeches, which, while not necessarily principally conservative, nonetheless show he is capable of having substance issue forth from his mouth. But I do not see him speak with facility about these issues without a teleprompter.

So in the end, if Hillary Clinton does have some debilitating malady, it may well be that Trump has one as well. Would I rather the national debate be about policy substance rather than personal disabilities and defects.

California SB 1146: Religious liberty at stake

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What’s the deal with California Senate Bill 1146? People have said it will shutter religious colleges and that it will reduce religious freedom, but I haven’t found an adequate account from the text of the legislation itself.

I am not a lawyer, but I am in the home stretch of earning a Master’s degree in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Since close reading and ethical reasoning are significant components of my apologetics training, I think I can present a simple case against SB 1146.

Shrinking religious exemptions

First, what does the bill really do? In part, it changes language in the already existing California Education Code. Specifically, it shrinks the religious exemption in one part of the code, Section 66271. Whereas the section currently exempts all religious institutions from antidiscrimination enforcement, the current version of SB 1146 makes some indeterminate part of postsecondary religious instruction non-exempt:

SECTION 1.

Section 66271 of the Education Code is repealed.

66271.

This chapter shall not apply to an educational institution that is controlled by a religious organization if the application would not be consistent with the religious tenets of that organization.

SEC. 2.

Section 66271 is added to the Education Code, to read:

66271.

 (a) This chapter shall apply to a religious educational institution except with respect to prohibitions concerning religion.

 

The struck-out portion is the text of the Education Code to be replaced. So the exemption would go from saying “This chapter shall not apply” to “This chapter shall apply.” This is a significant change that requires a rationale in its own right. If the exemption was okay in previous years, why does it suddenly require a legislative change now? Voters and citizens deserve an answer.

Some previous reporting and advocacy citing the bill noted that instruction for ministry and vocational work would remain exempt, while other programs would not. A seminary handing out Master of Divinity degrees would be exempt as always, but a four-year program awarding degrees in biology or English would not be exempt from “civil remedies,” also known as lawsuits. However, this specific language was struck from the bill in the June 13 amendment. Currently, the scope of the exemption, is, in the words of the Assembly committee analysis, “unclear”:

Committee staff notes, however, that “except with respect to the prohibitions concerning religion” is undefined, and it is unclear whether this exception could result in allowable discrimination against a California protected class if the religious institutions determines that discrimination is consistent with the tenets of the religion.

Alternatively, if the concern is to clearly allow religious teachings, ceremonies and observances of a religious institution, the existing language of the bill could be amended to clearly allow religious ceremonies, teachings and other activities that may be required of students, faculty and staff of religious institutions.

This lack of clarity persists as of my writing this blog entry. If the bill is passed as-is, then students may well be green-lighted by administrators to sue because of teachings, ceremonies and observances that might be deemed discriminatory.

An Unfair Structural Assault on Religious Minorities

The power to sue is the power to deter and coerce, so it should not be held lightly. When small institutions (think of California’s Simpson College) might be shuttered due to the content of their doctrinal beliefs and behavioral standards, then that is effectively diminishing religious liberty. This is particularly true of the right for religious and intellectual minorities to reasonably act and think differently from the majority of society.

An objector might reply that private, religious schools have no right to Cal Grant money, another consideration effected by the bill. In this line of reasoning, religious schools need to comply by the rules that apply to all other schools. However, the withholding of Cal Grant money and a barrage of lawsuits would be an unfair burden suddenly imposed on theologically conservative California religious colleges, which are in a minority position regarding the nature of gender rights, among a host of other issues. This unfairness is structural and asymmetrical. It is structural injustice because it would produce a sweeping, one-time effect. It would not prevent the emergence of new religious schools independent of Cal Grant money. But it could shutter a large portion of existing California religious schools, dramatically changing the higher education landscape within the state. Although there might be a new baby later, the old baby would be thrown with the bath water.

The impact of SB 1146 is asymmetrical because a majority that prefers a certain uniformity in higher education would be imposing its will at the cost of a minority. And that real administrative cost on California religious colleges has been recognized in legislative analysis. To be clear, there are three different financial burdens religious colleges could potentially face: loss of Cal Grant funding for their students, penalties and costs arising from lawsuits, and administrative costs associated with posting exemptions (required by Section 3, addressed further below). Along with this are burdens imposed by being among the dissenting minority on the wrong side of the law.

Freedom of Association at Stake

I believe religious freedom is closely tied to freedom of association. In the case of SB 1146, what is at stake is the freedom to associate with a community that holds its members to self-imposed standards. At its best, this is the freedom to come together to accomplish shared positive goals that could not be achieved otherwise. In a pluralistic society, we try not to second guess, if we can, the goals of other voluntary associations. Undue concern for what goes on within other freely-formed groups results in repression, the very thing that progressives profess to oppose. If California were to impinge on individuals’ ability to freely associate, this would diminish an essential liberty that has served Americans well for 230 years.

Suspicion or Good Will?

Biola president Barry Corey said it well when he declared that Biola does not support bullying, and intends its space to be welcoming. The question with SB 1146 is whether California will assume religious colleges to be acting in good faith, as good will participants contributing to the common good, or whether it will regard religious colleges as inherently suspect.

Unfortunately, Section 3 of SB 1146 suggests the later, that religious schools should bear the burden of being suspect. This portion of the bill requires schools that receive exemptions from antidiscrimination measures to post this fact prominently on the campus and in correspondence with potential students. Progressives are rightly concerned with the stigmatization, shunning, and shaming of minorities. But does this apply two ways? In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is condemned to wear a scarlet letter ‘A’ on her blouse to remind her community members that she was found guilty of the sin of adultery. What the Section 3 notifications amount to is a scarlet ‘D’, intended to remind students, parents, and the rest of the world that certain religious schools are to be regarded suspiciously as discriminators. If antidiscrimination has anything to do with ending stigmatization, shunning, and shame, then Section 3 makes SB 1146’s purported goal of antidiscrimination internally inconsistent.

It’s an irony that some progressive activists might end up using SB 1146 as a puritanical tool of oppressing dissent and enforcing conformity. But rather than assuming the worst of each other, citizens in a pluralistic, democratic society must extend the assumption of good will as much as reason would allow. It takes two to tango. If one side–particularly the democratic majority–remains inflexible, then we will return to the historical state of confessionalism. In 16th and 17th century Europe, this was a time when those subjects who could not affirm their rulers’ religious creed were forced into exile. This is the antithesis of a liberal society. In Europe, the divide was between Protestants and Catholics. Today, the divide is between progressive ideological activists and those who dissent from their controversial orthodoxies. Biola and other California religious institutions seem to be responding with patience, charity, and civility in the face of what could otherwise be interpreted as divisive political action. If there is any hope for fairness and justice, it will not be fulfilled in legislating dissenting communities out of existence, but by heeding the admonition, “Come, let us reason together.”

Photo credit: janetvincent via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Trumpism is not conservatism

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USA Today reports on how thirty black students were ejected from a Trump rally in Valdosta, Georgia the night before Super Tuesday. Without knowing all the details, it is safe to say that on its face, the optics are disgraceful. This feeds the narrative that Trump is a strongman for bigots.

In recent weeks, movement conservatives have intensified their opposition to Trump. Famously, National Review withdrew its sponsorship from a GOP debate in order to come out in print against the orange mogul.

Trump makes it very easy for conservatives to disown him. Fewer than 100 words from the USA Today article readily exemplify how Trump has nothing to do with American conservatism:

During his remarks in Valdosta, Trump said he’s leading a movement. “I’m just a messenger,” he said.

Later, Trump said his whole life has been about making money, but “now I’m going to be greedy for the United States,” as the audience roared. “I’m going to take, take, take and we’re going to become rich again.”

Karen Clendenin, 58, a victims advocate in the local district attorney’s office, said she was very impressed and that she’ll vote for Trump on Tuesday in Georgia’s primary. Clendenin said she wore her “Trump” T-shirt Monday even though she was “a little embarrassed.”

  1. Trump doesn’t own his positions. By saying “I’m just a messenger,” Trump refuses to take responsibility for his own words and actions. He is comfortable as a demagogue and opportunist, but a coward when it comes to committing to ideas and people in the real world. If nothing else, American conservatives are loyal to ideas and institutions that have a past track record of serving the common good. Failure to own, defend, and advance these ideas and institutions is not conservative.
  2. Trump is a redistributionist. “I’m going to be greedy for the United States” is essentially the same promise a Democrat makes to redistribute wealth by making college free, erasing student debt, or raising the minimum wage. This is not the free market under the rule of law that Reagan conservatives advocate.
  3. Trump is a one-man lawyer employment agency. Conservatives despise how overly litigious America has become. The conservative’s bible about this is Philip K. Howard’s The Death of Common Sense. One major conservative plank for reforming healthcare is tort reform. When I read that one Trump’s supporters is a legal “victim’s advocate,” I take this to mean ambulance chaser, like the 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards. The way progressives bring lawsuits, political correctness re-education and other vindictive instruments to bear on fellow Americans is anathema to conservatism. Trump’s constant threats to sue are much more at home with progressive tactics to silence and punish political enemies than with conservatism.

Bringing it back to race, opposition to immigration is populist protectionism, not free market conservatism which embraces competition and invites the best and brightest to become part of the American fold. Whatever Trumpism is, it is not conservatism.

Photo credit: markahuna via Imgur.

Report on Icelandic religious belief “literally” misleading

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The Washington Post reports under the headline, “In this country, literally no young Christians believe that God created the Earth.” The country is Iceland.

So is it “literally” true? God by any standard conceptual defintion just is the creator of the entire physical universe, which includes the Earth. So whether a Christian, or any theist for that matter, believes this through young earth creationism, old earth creationism, theistic evolution/evolutionary creationism, intelligent design, natural theology, or by logical inferences after reading the back of a cereal box, she believes indeed that God created the Earth. For any theist, the Earth did not get the way it is today without at least two means. First, God’s immediate, creative act that brought the physical world into being out of literally nothing, and second, God’s sovereign supervision over ordinary physical means, attributed by virtually everyone to what are called the laws of nature.

This piece of reporting shows how major media can drastically downplay what Christians actually think while in pursuit of the sexy narrative that traditional religious belief is in dramatic decline.

Exemplifying the misleading pull of this narrative, one graphic charts the “Rise of atheism in Iceland,” but the two mutually exclusive responses plotted are “Religious Believers” and “Non-religious,” where the latter includes atheists and non-religious people. Like a cheap off-brand hot dog vendor, some editor has allowed this chart to puff up “atheism” with filler that includes agnostics and non-religious people. This probably counts many spiritual theists who for whatever reason don’t self-identify with a religious tradition.

So all told, don’t believe a headline when it says “literally” no young Icelanders believe in creation.

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Democrats and identity politics dishonesty

Fox News is a venue more fit for exchanging sound bites than exchanging measured arguments. Yet, there is value even in analyzing sound bites, because those still should be backed by honesty and integrity. Over two consecutive nights on Megyn Kelly’s “The Kelly File,” Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and then Democratic strategist Robert Zimmerman dutifully dropped their D-bombs, “diversity” and “discrimination,” to drive home a tired narrative that Republicans are mired in a racist, misogynistic, and homophobic past. Whatever else those bombs were loaded with, it wasn’t honesty or integrity.

Democrat Zimmerman twice asserted that Republicans were stuck in the 1950s. But Democrats seem to be mired in the 1960s, for that was when equal pay for women was enacted by legislation under John F. Kennedy. He’s been dead for more than 50 years, but Democrats keep exploiting the senseless women’s pay equality meme. To keep doing so, without substantiating evidence, is politically dishonest. And that dishonesty goes all the way up the chain to President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Zimmerman also alleges Republicans of wanting to discriminate against LGBT Americans, but this is just an empty smear. When social conservatives are amply justified to support policies based on natural law and common sense, the charge that they want to legislate Jim Crow animus against sexual minorities does not stick.

Do Republicans really have a problem with minorities generally? They do have a disproportionate lack of support among minority voters, but arguably that is more due to the stereotypes those voters hold of Republicans than the substance of Republican policies. Indeed, when it comes to Republican officeholders, the problem vanishes. For example, Susana Martinez and Nikki Haley are both nonwhite, female, twice-elected Republican governors. Democrats really need a new playbook.

And contrary to what Wasserman Schultz said to Megyn Kelly, Haley has had a very sunny approval rating in South Carolina, making her “one of the most popular Governors [sic] in the country.”

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is emblematic of what’s wrong with politics today. She is a con woman whose rhetoric is totally disconnected from reality. Zimmerman and Democrats right up through the President have this same disconnect. To be sure, they don’t monopolize this problem to the exclusion of Republicans. Inasmuch they blame immigrants for the econimic hardships of America’s working class, they partake in the disconnect too. But Democrats seem to be the masters of spewing identity politics nonsense.

http://video.foxnews.com/v/4703064148001/did-dnc-chair-make-sexist-remarks-about-gov-nikki-haley/?playlist_id=928378949001

Arguing about race and justice: an apologist’s perspective

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship drew critical attention for a talk on racial justice delivered at Urbana 15, its recent student missions conference. After plenary speaker Michelle Higgins called out pro-life activism and explained Black Lives Matters to evangelicals, InterVarsity issued a clarifying statement. Many conservative Christians struggle to understand where Higgins’ message comes from, but it is not a new one in the Christian church or even for InterVarsity. What she said is important to understand, because everyone should know and speak truth and act justly.

 

What Higgins Says

Most people will find things to agree with and disagree with in what Higgins says. In an online video of her talk, she shares her personal story, or her narrative. For her, this includes the brutal killing of a mixed race man by white authorities in 1837, not far from where Higgins lives and the Urbana conference is periodically held. Disappointed that evangelicals don’t want to talk about racial justice in the wake of several high profile police killings of young black men, Higgins asserts that her fellow evangelicals have edited and “blanked out” parts of their own story. She believes evangelicals have inherited a burden of white supremacy that says, “white is right.” Higgins affirms that God alone gives people their dignity, and that Christians should give control of their narratives to him. Practically, this means standing in solidarity with Black Lives Matters rather than remaining comfortably indifferent. Finally, she asserts that we have the means to end racist and classist oppression, but we need the will to end it.

Insight from an Apologist

As a mixed race son of a white American father and an immigrant Thai mother, I have long questioned personal identity claims. I don’t fit neatly inside many boxes. Having come to Christian faith in adolescence, I was deeply involved in an InverVarsity community all through college and for years after. But like many others, I wasn’t adequately equipped to interact with some of InterVarsity’s views on racial justice. It took a few years before I learned to critically examine worldviews through my involvement with Christian apologetics. Like I suspect Higgins does, I believe Christians should speak and act truth in love, and this extends to race and justice.

Telling Truth Carefully

In the face of those who deny it, Michelle Higgins correctly exhorts students at Urbana “to tell the truth, the whole truth.” But she overgeneralizes when she ascribes denial to North American evangelicals. For example, Higgins reports the evangelical heart attitude this way:

We’re not ready to talk about the fact that black bodies are grotesque to us, we don’t want to admit that. That’s a part of our story we’ve blanked out.

I can see this as an appropriate expression of righteous anger over a particular harm. I can see this as rhetoric to alert evangelical imaginations to some overlooked truth. But to assert that a whole group is in denial about something is a broad brush stereotype and a stumbling block to mutual understanding. Evangelists know that people bristle when they are told they are guilty of some sin they are unaware of, so why do social justice Christians speak so cavalierly? To so readily peg another’s heart attitude easily comes off as a manipulative and bald assertion. Prophetically speaking truth to power is appropriate for those who stand guilty, but it is far from established that evangelicals individually or collectively are guilty of all that Higgins lays before them.

At another point in her talk, Higgins says evangelicals have inherited a dominating Eurocentrism from the first missionaries arriving on the continent. She sums the inherited attitude this way:

I will not translate my Bible into their language; I will teach them what my Bible says according to me and have them learn what I believe Christianity to be.

Any Christian who is familiar with missions work knows that for centuries missionaries have diligently translated the Bible into native tongues. And for decades missionaries have been sensitive to the error of transmitting cultural non-essentials to people groups being reached out to. These, perhaps more so than the arrogant errors of four or five hundred years ago, are also evangelicals’ inheritance.

In the face of broad rhetorical accusations, many evangelicals have legitimate and unanswered questions. Speaking for InterVarsity, Greg Jao acknowledges the dissonance students experienced after Higgins’ talk:

“This was the first time many of them heard a message like this, and they were really wrestling with the implications: What does white complicity look like? What’s my responsibility as a member of the majority culture, and how do I know that what they’re saying is true?”

Advancing Agreement through Argument

The rhetorical questions Jao asks are familiar to me as an InterVarsity alum. I’ve heard asked many times, “What does it look like . . .?” This is not a bad way to proceed from established truths. But “white complicity” is controversial; it isn’t established in the church, the academy, or North American society that the crime of whiteness implicates any particular individual in any historical or systemic transgression. This is not denial but careful truth-telling. Merely finding that one’s values and tastes come from Europe rather than Africa doesn’t make one guilty of dominance. Social justice Christians who want to assert otherwise need to do more than just start conversations with open-ended questions. Requests for clarification and making distinctions aren’t always excuse seeking or the mere side effect of feeling uncomfortable. Instead, they are often crucial steps toward having constructive arguments that help lead to agreeing upon publicly shared truths.

Christian apologists do this in the broader culture, keeping in mind Peter’s advice to

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

An attitude of charity rather confrontation, and a disposition of credulity rather than suspicion, is required in helping others to see a truth that you see. Across the belief spectrum, it feels good to stand prophetically, speaking truth to power, but invoking imaginative sympathy and standing in solidarity aren’t enough to love God and neighbor. We must carefully speak the truth in pursuit of a deliberative consensus. Human imagination doesn’t just motivate feelings of sympathy and acts of solidarity, but enables acts of accurate understanding. If we can speak charitably rather than mislabel each other in the church, we will be closer to fulfilling Jesus’ words in John 13:35 that “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Christians and self-sacrifice: do “we” have to?


Talking about ethical controversies in terms of “we” easily leads to confusion and misunderstanding. Unfortunately, this is all too common when drawing ethical guidance from the Bible. There’s a tendency to assume that a passage can be read as one-size-fits-all, such that it supplies an absolute guiding principle for all times, places, and situations. But not all prescriptions are absolute, and accordingly “we” should not blindly follow them. Rather, look at a passage’s context. Who is the message intended for, and in what circumstance? And if there is a principle to be had, take it for a “test drive” to see if any absurdities arise.
A couple of recent social controversies exemplify the problem of taking biblical prescriptions absolutely. In both cases, people are concerned about what Christians should not be doing. But in the end I don’t think these proscriptions are absolutely authoritative for anyone.
1. Christians and guns. Earlier this month, John Piper offered a charitable and scriptural corrective to Jerry Falwell Jr.’s admonition that Liberty University students should train to carry concealed weapons. In his post, Piper acknowledges that God ordains the state to wield the sword for the purpose of justice. However, he hesitates to affirm that ordinary Christians should be so armed. Drawing from Paul and especially from 1 Peter, Piper relates correctly that God “intends to reveal the supreme worth of his Son and his salvation in the special grace of a Christian people who have the miraculous power to entrust themselves to his care while suffering unjustly.” Further, the New Testament produces a heart that “trusts in the help of God in every situation.” Finally, Piper asks:
What is the moment of life-threatening danger for? Is it for showing how powerful and preemptive we have been? Is it to show our shrewdness — that we have a gun in our back pocket and we can show you something? That is a response learned from Jason Bourne, not Jesus and the Bible. That response appeals to everything earthly in us, and requires no miracle of the new birth.

I agree that God intends to use Christian suffering to testify about Christ. But does this imply that Christians should never prepare for life-threatening events and instances of suffering? I’m not sure Piper means to say this, yet this absolute interpretation gets defended in daily conversations. Before we take this view for a test drive, let’s gain some insight from a second recent controversy.

2. “You Don’t Get to Make that Move.” This Fall, Christians voiced strong reservations about taking Syrian refugees into the United States. Not at all unlike John Piper’s response to Jerry Falwell, Jr., one Christian blogger expressed dismay at the tone and impression other Christians were giving in the course of debate. The blogger rightly tilts against hysteria, fear, and bigotry, accepting that non-Christians might display these traits, but demanding more from Christians:

But if you name Jesus as king? Well, then I’m sorry, Christian, but you don’t get to make that move.

He goes on to tell us things Christians don’t get to do, including:

We don’t get to hunt around for excuses for why we don’t need to include “those people” in the category of “neighbour.”

We don’t get to look for justifications for why it’s better to build a wall than open a door.

We don’t get to label people in convenient and self-serving ways in order to convince ourselves that we don’t have to care for them.

And:

We don’t get to reduce the gospel of peace and life and hope to a business-as-usual kind of political pragmatism with a bit of individual salvation on top.

We don’t get to ask, as our default question, “How can I protect myself and my way of life?” but “How does the love of Christ constrain and liberate me in this particular situation?”

Who can argue against this? My concern though is that such a post ends up getting used by others as a straw man in debate. If all objections to hosting refugees boil down to laziness, carelessness, fear and panic, then how can a Christian or a citizen express legitimate concerns about real dangers affecting her society, her neighbors, her family, or even herself? This absolute position needs a test drive, too.

Taking absolutes for a spin

Recall Piper’s concern that Christians should trust “in the help of God in every situation.” What about situations where Christians or those they care for fall ill? Most seek a doctor, and rightly so. Few people think this entails a lack of trust in God; such a position is absurd. It seems then that in some cases Christians are justified in actively preventing and mitigating their own and others’ suffering.

An obvious objection to this is to distinguish between resisting natural evil and resisting evil coming from the hand of others. After all, both Romans and 1 Peter say not to repay evil with evil. Then maybe “we” ordinary Christians shouldn’t defend ourselves against attack after all. I’ll complicate this objection by appealing to the imperative to protect others. Imagine a case where a Christian, by failing to resist an assailant, allows his wife to die. To extend the test drive of this absolute principle, how about if a Christian by similar inaction allows her own child to die, or her neighbor’s child? It is not at all clear that testifying about Christ requires these kinds of “sacrifices.” By the light of conscience these cases seem morally repugnant. The absolute prohibition against defense of others, and perhaps even self-defense, breaks down.

What about the controversy of being hesitant to take in refugees? Do Christians really not “get to make that move”? The same dynamics seem to be at play with Christians and guns. If following Jesus means urging law enforcement and others to forget completely about the threat of terrorism and violence, then let me suggest that is an absurd and unthinking Christianity.

Every Christian should imitate Christ’s self-sacrifice in appropriate circumstances. But carelessly disregarding one’s own life or the lives of others contradicts essential aspects of Christianity. Bearers of God’s image–including ourselves–deserve great respect and ought to be preserved as much as possible. Deuteronomy 30 exhorts us to “choose life.” Jesus in Mark 12 commands that you love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and that you love your neighbor as yourself. And in Jeremiah 29:7, God urges, “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile.” Dying a martyr’s death for the gospel is a noble aspiration and has its proper place, but we should not seek it in every situation we face, let alone enlist our neighbors. In light of scripture and reason, “we” don’t always have to roll over and die.

 

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